Wild Garlic. Everywhere. All At Once.
Wild garlic Allium ursinum is for many an introduction into the world of foraging and cooking with wild ingredients. A member of the Lily family, its broad leaf could be muddled with that of the fragrant, Lily of the Valley Convallaria majalis. However, the scent of wild garlic is similar to a chopped garlic clove. Ransoms grow in abundance in woodland, enjoying the dampness and shade of trees. It is an easy plant to identify because of its pungent scent. The smell is overwhelming after light rain. Here’s the deal with apologies to those with sensory deficit (anosmia): bruise a leaf between a finger and thumb and smell a definite culinary rather than floral, scent. I will tell you more about juicing wild garlic leaves later. At this stage, I’ll simply say that after extracting the juice, my kitchen was stinky for days.
The countryside in spring recalls Hardy's story of Tess of the d'Urbervilles when there was concern that the butter had a funny twang because the cows had dined on wild garlic. Read more borrowed wild garlic sense and sensibility:
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'Tis garlic! and I thought there wasn't a blade left in that mead!" Then all the old hands remembered that a certain dry mead, into which a few of the cows had been admitted of late, had, in years gone by, spoilt the butter in the same way. The dairyman had not recognized the taste at that time, and thought the butter bewitched’
The wild scent of ramsons is strong and its flavour stronger. Less is more.
The pretty, white umbrella ramson flowers, leaves and stems are edible. Identify and beware of the toxic leaves of Lords and Ladies Arum maculatum that may lurk amongst the ramsons, and you are safe to take your gathering into the kitchen. Harvest enough for your own table not the neighbourhood.
The slender leaf of the three-cornered leek Allium triquetrum with its tiny white flower is delicious too. On South Uist, in the Western Isles, I pick this non-native member of the allium family. Three cornered leek may be interchanged with ramsons in wild garlic recipes. However, it is not the same plant. The leaf of three-cornered leek is narrow and its flower is bell shaped with a green line. In some parts of Britain, East Lothian for sure, you may find few flowered leek Allium paradoxum, or Asian wild onion. This is similar to three cornered leek, but as its name suggests, has fewer flowers. It also dons a lighter green stripe. In common with three cornered leek, it is a non-native and an invasive pest. Cooking with these plants (and on this occasion, tugged up roots too) is eco chic. These plants can form a thick carpet and compete for nutrients with native spring plants such as the primrose. Rosy garlic, another invasive, common in the Southwest of England, has as its name predicts, rosy pink flowers. In England and Wales, it is an offence to plant Allium paradoxumin in the wild - if you come across it - Pull it up and EAT IT.
Three-cornered leek runs riot in a garden. My favourite spot to forage this wild edible on South Uist, is in a ditch where I gather garden escapees. Wait a few weeks and the flowers of wild garlic mingled with bluebells will display nature's Saltire. There are often young nettles about too. Pick and cook nettle tops, early in the season.
Add wild garlic to bread, wilt the leaves in a stir fry, throw chiffonade (thinly sliced) leaves into an omelette, white sauce or scrambled eggs. Pickle the buds and stems, pop shredded leaves in bread dough or conservatively, in a baton in garlic bread style. The possibilities for cooking wild garlic are endless. Be Creative. Enjoy the Wild Garlic Fest. Don’t be greedy. The thing about foraging is there is always the temptation to take a wee bit more. I often hold back (especially with seaweed) when I remember the preparation time. Laver for example, harbours so much sand. Wash and even when you think you are done, wash it again. That foraged edible is jolly hard work to prepare. Fortunately wild garlic is a breeze in comparison. Be careful if you harvest where dogs are walked.
One of my favourite recipes involves a chiffonade of leaves mixed with melted butter drizzled over new potatoes. Go, Dairyman Dick, Tess and Angel of Tess of the D’Urbervilles fame. In a Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (1703) Martin Martin writes of ‘the remarkable cures performed by the Natives.’ It includes wild garlic as a remedy for kidney stones. The wild herb was also drunk as an infusion to purify blood. In the footsteps of our ancestors, we need to become familiar with weeds. Wild Garlic, invasive or native, is on its way to becoming a gourmet weed. In season, it is nature’s strong competitor to basil in a pesto recipe. The resulting pesto will be vibrant emerald green and VERY garlicky. I add finely chopped dulse for speckled colour (red) and texture, but that's because I live at the seaside. I include fresh or dried seaweed in lots of my cooking. One autumn, I'm hoping to find the hazel trees where a crofter tells me that in his childhood, he foraged hazelnuts.This would stride towards even greater Hebridean pesto provenance. I often use almonds simply because they are cheaper than pine nuts and available in my store cupboard. The forager learns to improvise and is happy if his or her basket is only half full, be it with ramsons or a non-native invader.
Wild garlic leaves can be put through a juicer and the bright green juice then mixed with oil -Make it and Use it. Pop the wild emerald juice in an ice cube container, one that is never to be used for iced cocktails again, freeze, defrost and use at a later date out of season. N.B. wild garlic juice stains and is very smelly.
Wild garlic flowers may be popped into a jar with salt and left to dry on a warm windowsill - to make garlic salt, The buds can be pickled - adapt my recipe for scented pickled kelp stipes from Seaweed in the Kitchen. The flower buds emerge from the central stem. This tip may help in your bud searching. Ramsons are only just surfacing in rural Angus and yet, I’ve found a few buds already. The canopy of floral white umbrellas will arrive all too soon. The seasons await no man.
The Wild Garlic Feast Continues:
Chopped chiffonade style, wild garlic leaves add flavour and colour as you cook.
Wild Garlic Pesto mixed with breadcrumbs, dried dulse and rosemary flowers. A spectacular cladding for British lamb
Wild Garlic Pesto on Rack of Lamb
Enjoy the Wild Garlic Season. This wild herb is freely available in a wood near you. There are more wild garlic recipes in my book The Forager’s Kitchen Handbook
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